What You Need to Know Before Taking a CPR Class

Not All CPR Classes are Created Equal

Instructor teaching CPR to class in fitness center
Instructor teaching CPR to class in fitness center. Getty Images/HeroImages

CPR is performed on patients who are not breathing and do not have a pulse. There is no greater emergency. CPR has the effect of getting much-needed oxygen to the brain, where it can keep the nerves of the brain alive long enough for someone to get the patient's heart beating again.


Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is the shortest and most basic of all medical training classes. Most CPR classes take less than four hours to learn. CPR classes are targeted to their audience. The general public does not get the same training that paramedics must have. Knowing which level of CPR training you need is the first step to finding a class. To make it more difficult, CPR class names are not standardized.

1. Basic Life Support for Healthcare Providers

Also called CPR for Professional Rescuers, these CPR classes are required for emergency medical personnel. Don't let the term basic fool you; this level of training covers CPR and removing airway obstructions (choking) for adults, infants and children. This class also covers AED, ventilation devices, barriers for performing rescue breathing and two-person CPR techniques. If you're planning on going into the medical field, this is the level of training you want.

2. Adult CPR Classes

The simplest form of CPR can be learned in less than an hour. It only covers CPR for adults, which the American Heart Association defines as eight years old and older. This level of training requires the least amount of medical know-how and is perfect for the workplace, or for empty-nesters looking to be ready in case the unthinkable happens to a spouse. If you have access to an automated external defibrillator (AED) at work or at home, training for that equipment can be added to this course.

3. Infant and Child CPR Classes

If you care for kids under eight years old, this is the CPR class for you. It is essential for anyone who spends a lot of time with kids to know how to perform CPR on them. Maybe even more important is knowing how to clear an airway obstruction (choking). If you coach or volunteer at a school, church, community club or daycare, then you need to learn infant and child CPR.

Finding Classes

There are CPR training programs available at nearly all hospitals, ambulance services, fire departments and community colleges. However, just because CPR classes are readily available, doesn't mean they are all the same. It's important to attend CPR classes sanctioned by reputable organizations. In most states, no single institution or agency accredits CPR classes. Any person, company or agency can print a CPR card and "give a class." Here's how to find a good CPR class.

Questions to Ask

Ask these questions before registering, especially if you have to pay.

  • Does everyone get a CPR card? If you're taking a professional class, there should be a test. You don't want people doing CPR if they can't demonstrate competence.
  • Does everyone in the class get hands-on training? There should be a mannequin available for each student in the CPR class to practice doing chest compressions.
  • How are instructors certified? Good instructors see how students learn and adjust to individual needs.

Reputable Training Organizations

Two organizations stand out from the crowd for their training standards. I don't think these are the only options, and I certainly do not endorse either of these over the other.

  • American Heart Association. The absolute authority on all things related to the heart, courses accredited by AHA are accepted universally.
  • American Red Cross. Known for disaster response as well as CPR and first aid training, course fees may be paid by volunteering.

No Matter Where You Take CPR, Don't Be Afraid to Use It

Make sure your CPR training covers everything you need. If you're confused in any way, don't hesitate to ask your instructor to clear it up. Several CPR classes are taught with the use of videos or DVD. Don't let that discourage you from getting clarification; that's what the instructor is there for. No matter where you obtain CPR training, don't be afraid to use the information when the time comes.

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